Kniphofia ‘Poco Yellow’ is one of Terra Nova Nurseries’ easiest perennials to grow. The pollinator- and hummingbird-attracting variety blooms for months until frost. Kniphofia ‘Poco Yellow’ is most hardy in USDA zones 6-9. The Terra Nova POCO series is the company’s most compact and free-flowering Kniphofia series to date. Kniphofia ‘Poco Yellow’ is an upright plant that can resemble ornamental grass, add structure to the landscape, and make for a great container plant. No plant growth regulators (PGRs) are necessary with Kniphofia ‘Poco Yellow.’
When Sal Gonzalez started working at DM Color Express, the 160-acre greenhouse with five locations in California (San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Orange, Oceanside and Vista), more than two decades ago, he spent most of his time filling wholesale orders. Landscapers, who worked on teams that included architects and designers, came in with curated plant lists and needed no help choosing colorful annuals. As budgets shrunk, more landscapers started working solo and relied on Gonzalez to help them pick the right plants for their projects.
“If I can answer their questions, solve their problems and give them the plants they need to make their customers happy, I can guarantee a sale,” Gonzalez says.
As sales manager, Gonzalez has close relationships with the landscapers who depend on DM Color Express to provide top notch bedding plants; the installation pros, he explains, are the backbone of the business.
“Without the landscapers,” he says, “we have no business.”
A commitment to serving the needs of its landscape customers has helped shape how DM Color Express operates. The grower started out selling bedding plants, growing 25 acres of colorful annuals ranging from ageratum, begonias and calendula to vinca and zinnias, but that plant selection is changing.
“Because of the drought, landscapers had to rethink their plant choices,” Gonzalez explains. “A lot of the color has disappeared from the landscape because there isn’t enough water to irrigate impatiens five times a week, so we needed to offer them different choices.”
The new rules are forcing landscapers to choose new plant materials — and forcing DM Color Express to switch up its offerings. In the past, colorful annuals generated 65 percent of sales. Now, annuals generate less than 30 percent of the total revenue, a drop Gonzalez attributes to the drought.
Former California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014 that included mandatory restrictions on water use; although the drought ended in 2017, the state passed a bill to set permanent caps on indoor and outdoor water consumption, which means lasting changes to landscape design.
DM Color Express expanded its plant selection to include multiple varieties of succulents, agave, aloe and grasses to meet the demand for drought-tolerant plants. Gonzalez has vowed to help customers adjust to the changing landscape, and that means focusing on education.
“A lot of these landscapers have never worked with succulents before and we have to make them aware of how to plant and maintain them. We also have to make them aware that succulents are not a permanent plant material and need to be switched up just like annuals,” Gonzalez says. “The more we can educate our customers, the more chance we have to have a customer for life and not just a customer for a season.”
Delivering on customer satisfaction
Gonzalez estimates that 70 percent of his job is education; the remaining 30 percent is service — and he works hard to excel at both. In fact, landscapers often call on him for assistance; he meets them on job sites to assess the location and offer suggestions for selecting plant material or providing tips on how to best care for plants.
In one instance, the landscapers providing services to a local mall called Gonzalez after most of the flowers in their planters died. Their selections were meant to be planted in full sun, but the planters were located in areas with deep shade. Gonzalez worked with their desired color palette and offered plants that would thrive in deep shade.
DM Color Express is also quick to address issues. After downy mildew decimated one type of impatiens, Gonzalez reassured customers that DM Color Express could provide another type of impatiens that offered the same aesthetic with fewer disease issues. Even though the replacement plants were twice the cost, Gonzalez believes that providing an immediate solution to a major issue kept landscapers — and their customers — happy.
“You have to build trust with the customer,” he says. “I’d rather tell them there is a problem or admit that I don’t have a plant that is right for their location than sell them something that is not going to make it. Even if we lose them in that moment and they go to someone else and the plant fails, they will come back because we told them the truth.”
In Southern California, a major aspect of maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction is offering deliveries. Smaller landscapers are often willing to pick up plants from one of the DM Color Express locations; larger customers require deliveries.
Drivers arrive at the greenhouse between 2 and 3 a.m. to pick orders and load trucks with a goal of showing up on the job site as the sun comes up. As Gonzalez points out, “We have to be there on time so the landscapers can do their jobs. No one wants to get to a job site at 7 a.m. and find out there are no plants. If I screw up shipping, we don’t get paid.”
Sometimes, ensuring deliveries make it to landscapers on time means working after hours.
It’s not uncommon for Gonzalez to receive an order at 3 p.m. that needs to be delivered the next morning at 7 a.m. He works to hit those tight deadlines every time.
“That kind of service is what keeps customers coming back,” he says.
Cultivating long-term relationships
In addition to filling orders for plants based on garden designs, which sometimes involves selling a few flats of begonias or succulents to landscapers doing one-off jobs, DM Color Express also contracts with large landscaping companies serving commercial clients such as malls, hotels and theme parks to grow specific plants to meet their needs for the upcoming seasons — and he believes both deserve the same level of customer service.
When a boutique hotel had its landscaping budget slashed and could no longer afford to purchase 1,200 flats of annuals every three months, Gonzalez suggested alternatives that would provide the same pops of color but last much longer. The landscapers appreciated the advice and his willingness to work within their budget.
“The overall amount of their invoice went down but we kept the customer,” he says. “Our goal is to keep serving the same customer as long as we can because we know that as soon their budget is back, those sales will go back up. We are always thinking about the long-term.”
Jodi spent a decade working for a greenhouse grower before becoming a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in magazines like Farming, Modern Farmer and Greenhouse Management’s sister publication Garden Center.
A tool for combatting thrips
Brand Spotlight - Advertorial: Brand Spotlight with SePRO
Hachi-Hachi SC Insecticide from SePRO is an essential, broad-spectrum tool for combatting thrips and other insect pests.
With their rasping-sucking mouthparts and small size that enables them to maneuver through small spaces, thrips can be a problem for any operation. If they remain unchecked inside a greenhouse, or in outdoor production space, thrips can cause damage by feeding on plants, distorting growth and/or spreading diseases like impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV) and tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). It’s a problem that, if it’s not dealt with correctly, can ruin an entire crop.
“You’ve got to have as many tools in your toolbox as possible when it comes to western flower thrips,” says Brent Troost, head grower at Color Point Illinois in Granville, Illinois. “Thrips are the through line of viruses in this industry. TSWV can [run] rampant through your greenhouse if you don’t deal with thrips.”
That’s what makes Hachi-Hachi SC, an insecticide from SePRO, valuable to growers. It is effective against thrips — in addition to aphids, leafhoppers, lepidopteran insects, soft scales, mealybugs and coleopteran insects — and targets insects at all life stages. It also helps growers with disease management due to its fungistatic activity against powdery and downy mildew.
“Thrips are difficult to manage whether it’s inside or outside,” says Mark Brotherton, portfolio leader at SePRO.
In addition to utilizing Hachi-Hachi SC, Troost recommends that growers do regular check-ups in their greenhouse to scout for thrips. In Color Point’s greenhouses, Troost and his team of growers use sticky cards to monitor thrips over a 24-hour period. If, at the end of the 24 hours, Troost or his team see five or more thrips on a sticky card, they label the area a “hotspot” that must be dealt with immediately.
According to Troost, Hachi-Hachi SC is his go-to product for dealing with a hotspot because of how effective it is against the pest. During the growing process, he checks for more thrips before and after Hachi-Hachi SC application.
“It has a really great knockdown effect,” Troost says. “Right now, I think it’s one of the best products out there for thrips management."
How Hachi-Hachi SC can help growers
According to Brotherton, Hachi-Hachi SC can help growers because it combats thrips effectively. With Hachi-Hachi SC, whether in greenhouses or outdoors (where it recently received the registered use), growers get a product that has unique chemistry for insect control and strengthens integrated pest management (IPM) programs.
This can reduce the risk of resistance development, as there is no known resistance or cross resistance to the active ingredient.
“For those with outdoor production it’s a new technology for insect management,” Brotherton says.
Additionally, according to Brotherton, Hachi-Hachi SC has benefits beyond thrips control. With the latest label update, coleopteran insects (beetles) were added to the list of insects controlled. Research demonstrates Hachi-Hachi SC to be effective against the ever-present Japanese beetle, red-headed flea beetle which is a devastating beast with a rapidly expanding geographic distribution, among other troublesome beetle species.
“Growers are really happy with Hachi-Hachi SC as SePRO continues to expand labeled use sites and pest spectrum,” Brotherton says.
Incorporating and utilizing Hachi-Hachi SC
Troost, who has been using SePRO products since entering the industry in 2004, recommends that growers interested in Hachi-Hachi SC run a trial before using it. What is the same in one greenhouse, he says, won’t be the same in another greenhouse. According to Troost, tests are done at Color Point on the non-flowering and flowering stages of different plants.
“We always test at a high-rate — the highest recommended label rate — and in the heat of the day,” he says. “What that gives me is a better opportunity to see how it affects the plant. If everything comes out safe, then it typically gets the green light.”
After a trial is completed, and a grower decides to utilize Hachi-Hachi SC in their various areas of production, the next step is to decide how often to use it. In Color Point’s greenhouses — where Troost manages 85 acres of growing space full of bedding plants — he relies on Hachi-Hachi SC as part of his overall strategy.
“You have to know what’s going into your greenhouse — you have to be proactive. This is one of the tools that helps you do that,” Troost says.
With its recent registration for outdoor use, Hachi-Hachi SC can be used by greenhouse growers, nursery growers and landscape managers. Hachi-Hachi SC has been found to be compatible with fertilizers and other registered pesticides. However, growers should conduct a small-scale trial and always consult the label before doing so.
“Thrips are a constant battle for growers and unique chemistries are always welcomed,” Brotherton says. “But when you have a solution that covers several other problematic insects (red-headed flea beetle, mealybugs, etc.) it really becomes a valuable tool. Hachi-Hachi SC is it.”
At the end of 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor reported unemployment rates are holding firm at 3.7 percent. This is a nearly 50-year low. If you’re an employer, you don’t have to be told what this means: It’s really tough to find great talent right now. Expand your pool of candidates by considering those who don’t have a college degree.
One of the biggest misconceptions among employers is that people must hold a college degree to be a viable candidate for certain positions. It’s just not true.
Not only are there plenty of smart young people out there who are choosing not to follow the traditional path, those who do follow it often don’t have the skills employers need. It makes no sense to cling to old hiring practices when we live and work in a whole new world.
Let’s change the conversation around how we educate America’s workforce. Not only are colleges failing to deliver candidates with the skills businesses need, many talented young people are bypassing college altogether. They see the astronomical price of a four-year degree and are unwilling to cripple themselves financially to attain one. Plus, they believe (and rightly so) that they can find better educational options and hone their skill set elsewhere.
So why do employers still believe traditional education is needed? Because the presence of a degree is a signal — a psychological shortcut that enables us to make good decisions without doing the exhaustive research needed to investigate every option. But signals can lose their meaning, and that’s what has been happening for some time now.
The “I have a degree, therefore I am smart, hardworking, and well-to-do” signal made sense back when only five percent of males born in 1900 had a college degree. Today, nearly 40 percent of working-age Americans hold degrees. Many degrees are useless to employers, curricula are disconnected from the needs of today’s marketplace and college typically fails to develop needed skills like critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication.
If you insist that the person you hire have a degree, you might well be missing out on the perfect candidate.
Shift your mindset to override the “degree” signal. Take a long, hard look at what really leads to success and performance, recognizing that university degrees aren’t the key, and revising your job postings to reflect the stuff that actually matters. You won’t be the first; in 2015, Ernst & Young professional services in the United Kingdom removed degree classification from its hiring criteria, citing a lack of evidence that university success correlated with job performance. Similarly, Laszlo Bock, former head of people operations at Google, went on record saying that grades in degree programs are “worthless as a criteria for hiring,” and currently as much as 14 percent of employees on some Google teams never attended college.
Drop the application tracking system, or at least switch off the filtering related to education. While you’re tweaking your hiring process, lean more into the assessments and simulations that actually give you a sense of what candidates can bring to the table. When Ernst & Young did this, they saw a 10 percent increase in the diversity of new hires.
Look at candidates who have pursued more progressive, cutting-edge options. Many students are now choosing hybrid programs like the one offered by Minerva Schools at KGI, or a “last mile” training offered by MissionU, or a program like Praxis, whose slogan is “The degree is dead. You need experience.”
Consider ditching the resume requirement. People often embellish the truth (or outright lie) on resumes. Instead, ask candidates to fill out an online application that has behavior questions and asks people to do tasks they’ll need to be able to do on the job. This provides a much better picture of whether they’ll be able to perform. Plus, some candidates might have exactly the qualities you want but don’t come across well on a resume.
Ask candidates to perform a task that simulates the job. These could be built into your online application. For example, if you’re hiring a writer you would ask them to complete a short writing task. This is a good way to weed out those candidates that don’t have the technical proficiency to do the job, which will make narrowing down the list much easier.
For more complicated jobs, consider paying a candidate to take on a project. Or hire someone on a contract basis to make sure they have the right stuff before you extend a more permanent offer.
During the interview, focus mostly on chemistry and culture fit. By the time a candidate gets to this phase, they will have demonstrated that they have what it takes to do the job. What the interview can really tell you is how well you’ll get along with the person.
Cultivate the things that matter by developing a culture of learning and growth. While it’s important to find the right candidates, it’s even more important to make sure you continue to develop people after you hire them. There are many great books on this subject. Also, consider engaging training providers, such as Mind Gym, The Center for Work Ethic Development, and my own company, Mirasee.
Danny Iny is the author of “Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners and Experts with Something to Teach.” He is a lifelong entrepreneur, best-selling author, and CEO of the online business education company Mirasee.
Atlas Greenhouse was founded in 1986 as a regional greenhouse manufacturer with only 3,000 square feet of production space. Today, Atlas has grown to consist of over 100,000 square feet of sales, manufacturing and warehouse space under one roof. A full product line manufacturer and supplier of greenhouse systems and components, Atlas Greenhouse has become a leading national brand. Atlas manufactures commercial greenhouses used for ornamental horticulture, vegetable transplant production, hydroponic/aquaponic crops and as educational teaching environments while servicing many other agricultural growing applications. For every application, Atlas offers both free-standing and gutter-connected structures. Product lines and equipment selection always remain in stock thanks to the advantage of onsite manufacturing.
This allows Atlas to provide unprecedented industry lead times for valued customers. From natural/passive ventilation, to light deprivation to greenhouse benching, the experts at Atlas can provide an environment for success for any crop. Atlas Greenhouse structures are built utilizing Allied Gatorshield tubing, engineered to meet your local codes and are designed for your specific plans. The sales staff are passionate about your success and provide personal service to see you through from start to finish. Atlas supports organizations that help sustainability thrive, ensuring the future growth and development of the green industry.
Atlas is centrally located in southern Georgia, just 20 miles east of Interstate 75 on U.S. Highway 82. Only a short drive from major shipping ports on the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast.